Europa League 2012: Teams You Shouldn't Bank on in the Knockout Stage

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2012

MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 18:  Antonio Cassano of FC Inter Milan during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale Milano and Cagliari Calcio at San Siro Stadium on November 18, 2012 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Most big clubs think the Europa League is a joke, nothing but a nuisance to their league campaigns.

Despite their respective finishes in the Premier League, Manchester City and Manchester United went down early in the knockout stage last year. Tottenham Hotspur didn't even make it out of the group stage.

Sure Spanish clubs Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia all advanced to the semifinal in 2011-12. That was more down to the fact that Barcelona and Real Madrid are the only two with a chance at winning La Liga, so the others try and win any competition they can.

Saying the Europa League plays second fiddle to its big brother is inaccurate. The Champions League is the be-all and end-all when it comes to club football. For those outside of the Champions League, qualification trumps almost every pursuit.

In a way though, that can make things more interesting, as it can always be fun to watch European giants knocked down a peg, even in a minor competition.

Here's three clubs from the big European leagues you can count on making an early exit.



Borussia Monchengladbach

Few predicted Borussia Monchengladbach would finish in fourth place in the Bundesliga again this season, a task made more difficult by the departures of Marco Reus and Dante.

Nobody though, could have expected them to be sitting 11th in the league table with 16 points. It has been nothing short of a disaster for the club.

Particularly shocking has been the play of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. He was one of the best keepers in Europe in 2011-12. The club was second in the Bundesliga in goals allowed (24). Monchengladbach has already conceded 23 goals and they're just 12 games into the season.

With the club's struggles, manager Lucien Favre may have to weigh the league campaign with competing in Europe, and in almost every case, the domestic league wins out.

Some might argue that Monchengladbach have never recovered from losing the Champions League play-off to Dynamo Kiev. Their performances on the pitch would seem to reflect that.



Inter Milan

For Inter Milan, the goal is going to be the Champions League. The secondary European competition will be just that—secondary. With Serie A retaining only three places in the Champions League, the competition at the top becomes even greater.

Both Napoli and Fiorentina are just a point back from second-place Inter, and Lazio is five points behind. More importantly, Inter are within shouting distance of the top spot in Serie A. Leaders Juventus are just four points ahead.

Inter have easily advanced to the knockout stage because Partizan Belgrade and Neftchi Baku offer little to no competition.

Much like with Favre, manager Andrea Stramaccioni will have to balance his club's domestic matches with those in the Europa League. He would most certainly trade a Champions League spot for winning the Europa League.




Levante are a club that ride their luck in a big way. Although they're extremely organized defensively, there's a lot of luck involved with a club that is fourth in La Liga despite a minus-one goal differential.

Chelsea illustrated in the Champions League last year that doing exactly what Levante is can be the road to European glory. On the other hand, the Blues had much more to their squad.

Levante goes out on the pitch with the lone goal of antagonizing the other team before snatching a goal. Then, they park the bus. It's a good strategy unless you fail to score. And as their goal differential would infer, scoring can be very difficult for them.

In addition, their squad size isn't very large, so down the road fatigue could become an issue.

Fans might look at the success of Spanish teams in the Europa League last year and pick Levante to build on that. Unfortunately for them, they just don't have the weapons in the attacking third to advance very far.